Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

The techno-digital sublime

Review: Rachel Arianne Ogle, i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night ·
PICA, 5 June ·
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall ·

Rachel Arianne Ogle’s superb precipice concludes with a reveal at the back of the darkened stage, where a curtain draws open to show an intensely glowing, curved wall situated at the rear of a small box, within which stands a sun-struck dancer. i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night takes this image and turns it into a short, stand-alone performance installation, with glitchie live electronic music from Luke Smiles and a blindingly purist lighting design and luminescent projections from Benjamin Cisterne.

Smiles, Ogle and Cisterne build here on the optical games and devices that immediately preceded cinema proper, such as the spinning, slotted zoetrope, or the carefully lit and crafted panoramas and moving dioramas of the nineteenth century. Cisterne has previously experimented with patterned moiré effects in lighting with his design for Sydney Dance Company’s 2 One Another (2012). Robin Fox’s use of digital projection and intense, immersive digital noise for Chunky Move is clearly another influence (Smiles previously danced with Chunky Move), as is, presumably, the regular to DarkMofo and the Melbourne Festival, Ryoji Ikeda, with his supra-minimal techno and lighting works for dance and installation. The strongest resonance, though, is with the landmark Morphia series, which dancer Helen Herbertson created with designer Ben Cobham of Bluebottle in the early 2000s, featuring an often agitated, naked Herbertson suspended in a blacker than black space, housed in a glowing white box.

Photo: Mick Bello

The movement of i have loved the stars too fondly is, however, more minimal than Herbertson’s intimate gestures. Halfway through i have loved the stars too fondly, there is a blink-and-you-miss it section in which Ogle briefly tilts onto an extreme angle and folds herself onto the floor, legs protruding above her, whilst lit by a totalising, white wash. Elsewhere she ever-so-unsteadily walks slowly and with very small steps down the centre line from the back of to the front and then back again. She is, therefore, more object than dancer, more a sculpture than a human.

The sheer over-stimulation of optical and aural signals means that the audience’s perception itself begins to warp (as in a zoetrope or Ikeda’s installations). As the sound pummels us (featuring, for a period, some of the most intense bass thuds I have heard outside of the work of Fox or Decibel), and as the light excoriates Ogle from behind, there are times where it seems she may be perhaps mouthing a silent cry. But the solarisation about her head and shoulders, and the silhouette effect it produces, is such that one cannot be certain.

The framing of the performer within i have loved the stars too fondly, therefore, echoes the work of performance artist Stelarc, who insists on calling himself “the body,” signalling his status an entirely impersonal, fleshy sensate unit sewn into a non-human, technological system. The effect, then, is that the body itself is almost blown apart, shattered and digitised (think the origin of Dr Manhattan in Watchmen). This is the techno-digital sublime in the extreme, producing a mildly terrifying feeling of euphoria and amazement. In the most impressive visual effect within the production, when Ogle stands at the front of the stage, the rapid shifts in the colour and directionality of the light create the illusion of up to six or eight shadowy figures, arrayed in a semi-circle before us, each swimming into existence as its predecessor is blown away by the lighting.

This effect is staged early in the piece, and to some degree the dramaturgy has nowhere else to go. The distorted white dots on the back wall are patterned according to random transmissions picked up while the show is in progress. As Ogle moves away from us in this slightly more forgiving light-and-sound world, one is tempted to read this as a return of the human after its technological auto-da-fé.

But closure is denied and she keeps her back to us. The conclusion seems to arise out of its duration more than it does out of any musical or choreographic evolution per se. While it seemed a shame to end on a whimper rather than a bang, precipice and i have loved the stars represent the sort of work which drew me to dance in the first place: austere, formal, painstaking, and scenographically brilliant – two of the best movement works of 2019.

i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night runs until June 8.

Read a Q&A with Rachel Arianne Ogle.

Pictured top is Rachel Arianne Ogle in “i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night”. Photo: Mick Bello.

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Back to back

Thanks to funding constraints, it’s rare to see a body of work by one independent choreographer, and even rarer to see independent works remounted. In the next two weeks, however, Perth audiences will  be have the chance to experience both. A remount of Rachel Arianne Ogle’s 2014 work precipice, will be closely followed by a season of its 2019 sequel, i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night. Nina Levy sat down with Ogle to learn more.

Rachel Arianne Ogle. Photo: Pedro Greig.

Nina Levy: precipice was your first full length work… how did the concept for this work come into being?
Rachel Arianne Ogle: precipice began as an exploration of various physical states in opposition. In my own movement practice I have always explored a physicality of being off balance – generating and riding momentum, falling and surrendering weight to gravity – to take risk and play more in the extremes of the unknown. This physicality informed my creative interests for this work. As I explored a series of physical provocations through movement, the larger concepts of the work began to reveal themselves to me. I have always been fascinated with space and the universe, and as the movement ideas developed it became apparent these concepts were all very much alive in the work. From there the work began to guide me, and tell me what it was about.

NL: And talk me through the creative process of making that work…
RAO: When I began to create precipice, I had no ambition to be a choreographer. But I had arrived at a point in my artistic life where I had some ideas that I was curious to play with and, for the first time, I felt like I was ready to do that with some bodies in space that weren’t my own. It was really the first time that I had stepped out from being on the inside, in an attempt to explore something, which shifted my focus considerably.

I would often start with a simple image, and then allow that image to invite my imagination and intuition to guide me, while offering the perspective of being the outside eye to what was unfolding. It was only at the end of the first stage development, that I realised I was making a show. From there, it continued to grow for two and half years before we arrived at the premiere season in 2014.

Tyrone Robinson and Storm Helmore in Rachel Arianne Ogle’s ‘Precipice’ (2014). Photo: Traianos Pakioufakis.

NL: It’s not often that independent works get a second outing. What’s it been like remounting the work?
RAO: It is an incredible privilege, so rarely afforded to an independent artist, to be able to revisit work in repertoire. It is invaluable to have the opportunity to reflect on where I have come from, and to consider the work in the context of, and relevance to, my creative present. I see my history, my lineage, and my influences in this work – but I also see a moment in time when I was beginning to unearth and trust my own creative voice, and my crafting of ideas.

The opportunity to be back working with the dancers, and to see how far they have come in the five years since we premiered… their own maturing as artists and performers brings a whole new depth to the work. At the same time, new cast members hold me accountable to justifying the work and the decisions I have made within it, as we transmit the information to new bodies. It has been a very short and intense remount period, but an incredibly joyful and rewarding one.

NL: Your design team for the two works (Luke Smiles – sound composition and Benjamin Cisterne – visual design) is a dream team. How did you come to work with these two creatives?
RAO:Ben, Luke and I all worked together with Melbourne dance company, Phillip Adams’ BalletLab, so we had been friends for many years. Luke is also a dancer, and he and I performed together in one of Phillip’s shows for which Ben was lighting designer, which we all toured to the US in 2007. Alongside his career as a dancer, Luke always had his parallel career as a composer/sound designer, through which he has a long history of collaborating with Ben. I had always thought that if I ever created work, I would love to have them both as the design team. To be honest, I think I just got lucky that when that time came, they both said yes.

Tyrone Robinson, Imanuel Dado, Storm Helmore and Niharika Senapati in the 2014 debut of ‘precipice’.

NL: Did you always envisage a sequel to precipice? How did the idea for i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night  have come about?
RAO: i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night began from a design concept that has a momentary presence in precipice. During the production week in the theatre for precipice in 2014, my design collaborators – Ben and Luke – and myself, began to discuss the potential for that design element to have a show of its own. So it started from there, and the work became a response to the design. Because the design element was born from precipice, it always felt very connected to that work. And conceptually the work continues the themes of where precipice arrives at its end, but also takes it in a different direction… like going down a different worm hole. It very much feels like an offer of what comes next, or like “the other side” of precipice – therein being its sequel.

NL: What made you decide to make a solo work this time?
RAO: i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night was always going to be a work for a solo performer, I think, largely due to the design concept we were working with and what felt appropriate for that. It never felt like a question that the performer would be me. This work is incredibly personal to me so I felt like somehow I didn’t have a choice in it… the work had already demanded that it come directly through me to the audience.

NL: And talk me through that creative process…
RAO: We watched a lot of science fiction films! And had many nerd discussions about space stuff… like black holes, the warping and manipulation of time and space, death, and what lies beyond. These filmic references unconsciously and inevitably fed into the work. During the first development we kept finding ourselves sitting for long periods of time just watching the lights and sound interact with the installation. We eventually realised that this hypnotic state that we were being drawn into was the experience we wanted for the audience. Once we made that decision it was about shaping and refining the elements to create that experience, and exploring the relationship of the body to that environment. Placing the body inside of the installation added the human element and completely shifted the perspective. The interaction of the body with the moving lights in front of the installation, created a visual illusion, distorting the perception of the reality the viewer is seeing. It was quite a magical discovery, and for me that sense of warping reality is really the essence of the work.

Choreographically, I originally started developing some improvisation scores, exploring different qualities and textures, and states of transition. However the more we explored the dialogue of the body with the installation, the more we realised that I needed to do less. So it became a process of stripping back. The choreography became quite distilled, but very rigorous in terms of the tension and focus in the body.

We further developed the work during a residency at EMPAC (Experimental Media and Performing Arts Centre) in New York in 2017. We continued to develop these ideas by integrating a live feed of radio communications from different airports around the world, which directly manipulates the lights and the sound. Ben and Luke then respond to this stimulus in real-time, shaping the already moving lights and sound into an improvised score and structure. So they are live onstage with me creating the design in real-time, and the work is slightly different every performance as a result.

NL: What’s next after these back-to-back seasons?
RAO: I am currently developing a new work, which is my most ambitious to date in terms of scale and vision. I am planning a design development for this work later this year, and will undertake a larger development with the dancers early in 2020. I will also be creating a smaller site-specific work in Tasmania in August, and undertaking some international travel to participate in a 3 month intensive improvisation project in Brussels later in the year. I’m dreaming up lots of new projects at the moment… so stay tuned!

precipice plays the State Theatre Centre of WA, May 29 – June 1.

i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night plays PICA, June 5-8.

Pictured top is Rachel Arianne Ogle in ‘I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night’. Photo: Mick Bello.

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Less is more

Review: Hatched National Graduate Show 2019 ·
Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts ·
Review by Jenny Scott ·

The 2019 edition of “Hatched National Graduate Show” is more of a minimalist affair than previous years.

Hosted by Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA), “Hatched” is an annual survey of works by selected artists who have recently graduated from tertiary institutions nationwide. This year’s exhibition features 18 artists (including three from WA), scaled back from the 30 graduates chosen for the 2018 show. As a result the PICA galleries feel more spacious, encouraging visitors to pay sustained attention to the works on display, and allowing links to be drawn between art from across the country – with shared concerns including mass consumption in global capitalism, sustainability and the natural environment, and explorations of cultural traditions and gender identity.

Many of the works in the ground floor galleries have been created with a sense of human scale in mind – such as Jonathan Kim’s finely balanced assemblages which sit directly (and vulnerably) on the floor, or Ómra Caoimhe’s intricate knitted structures hung from knotted wool. The deeply personal woven domes of Kim Ah Sam have been suspended at head height, as if waiting for someone to duck under and feel the rim of feathers around their neck.

On the back wall is a brightly lit satin cape by Dennis Golding, who has decorated the fabric with hand-sewn symbols of personal and cultural significance. Stunning footage of other richly coloured capes can be found in Golding’s two-channel video Empowering Identity (2018). Fluttering in the breeze, these lush garments conjure the power, strength and symbolic nationhood of the superhero, presenting a powerful representation of contemporary Aboriginal cultural identity.

Anita Cummin’s ‘feelings’. Photo: Matt Schild, Ok Media.

In the adjacent room is Anita Cummins’ feelings (2019), a radiant carpet of crushed Cheezels which is a sight (and smell) to behold. Close inspection shows hand prints in the neatly-packed surface of the powdered snack food, revealing the intimate labour performed by the artist during its installation. The winner of the prestigious 2019 Schenberg Art Fellowship, Cummins is concerned with mental illness and emotional processing, and this all-too-relatable work evokes feelings of excess, compulsion and short-term gratification.

Upstairs, the installations of Yvette James make the gallery space seem a little unstable, encouraging a heightened sense of bodily awareness and a feeling of potential disaster. An uncovered hole in the floor exposes an oil pool of indeterminate volume, while honey seems to leak from the bottom of a wall, and a heavy chunk of basalt rock hangs tenuously above. Evocative yet stylishly minimalist, these works pair nicely with the subtleties of Louis Grant’s nearby pastel blocks, which are seemingly solid forms that bear the bubbles and imperfections of kiln formed glass.

Across the room, Annette An-Jen Liu’s Reconsidering Time in the Ritual of the Joss Paper (2018) produces interesting tensions between the archival and the ephemeral, documenting the ceremonial tradition of burning joss paper. Liu has arranged display cases containing piles of ash alongside screens blaring an overlapping cacophony of news reports, signalling to the complexities of performing cultural heritage practices during the age of mass media.

As a whole, “Hatched 2019” offers a compelling and vital cross section of current contemporary art produced by emerging practitioners, in which the works of each artist bear witness to their considered academic enquiry and commitment to their developing practice.

“Hatched 2019” runs until 7 July.

Pictured top: ‘Empowering Identity’ (2018) by Dennis Golding. Photo: Matt Schild, Ok Media.

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Calendar, May 19, May 19

Dance: A Call to Dance

7-18 May @ PICA ·
Presented by Amrita Hepi ·

It’s your move

A Call to Dance is a participatory dance work that’s all about you.

Join acclaimed choreographer and dancer Amrita Hepi for a yarn about heritage, belonging, public expression and cultural authenticity. Together you’ll have fun and open conversation about some big issues facing us all, and come up with a small movement of personal rebellion: a move that’s all about you.

Each evening, she’ll perform the moves discovered from the community that day. At the end of her residency, Amrita will create a performance that captures the character and people of Perth.

This is A Call To Dance.

Produced by Performing Lines

Date, Time & Location
One-on-one Conversation
7-9, 11-12, 14-16 May
Daily sessions: 10.05am, 10.55am, 11.45am, 12.35pm, 2.25pm, & 3.15pm
Location: PICA Education Studio
Duration: 40 minutes each session
Price: Only $10!

Tickets on sale here

Daily performance
7-9, 11-12, 14-16 May at 5.30pm
Location: PICA Performance Space and various spaces across Perth
Duration: 10 minutes
FREE

Final performance
Saturday 18 May at 3pm
Location: PICA Performance Space
Duration: 30 minutes
Price: $10

Tickets on sale here

“Pop culture, the dynamism of tradition and the permeability of cultures play into Hepi’s work.” – Sydney Morning Herald

“Seeing the finished Hammerfest dance made us realise new perspectives on the city we know so well.” – Susanne Naess Nielsen, DanseArena Nord, Norway

More info: http://pica.org.au/show/a-call-to-dance/

Photo: Anthony Gattari

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News, Perth Festival, Reviews, Visual arts

Flux and fluidity

Review: Cassils, “Alchemic” and Marco Fusinato, “Lower Power” ·
PICA, 16 February ·
Review by Jenny Scott ·

Curated by Anne Loxley and Eugenio Viola, “Alchemic” offers an overview of the powerful works by US-based artist and bodybuilder Cassils, who is known for moulding, challenging and manipulating their body as their artistic medium. One of two exhibitions presented by PICA in association with the 2019 Perth Festival, “Alchemic” investigates and interrogates cultural and gendered narratives surrounding the body; exploring themes of resilience, vulnerability and the documentation of violence and trauma. Referencing the four elements of Western occultism (earth, fire, air, and water), these selected works are both aesthetically stunning and vital in their political intent.

In Tiresias (2013), a 15 minute video work documenting a four-hour durational performance, the artist presses their body against the male torso of a classical Greek sculpture that has been carved from ice. The artist stares stoically out at the viewer as the ice slowly melts, their stillness belying the pain they must have felt during such an act of endurance. Referencing a Greek mythological figure who was transformed from man to woman, this work speaks to the fluidity of gender – with Cassils describing their own transgender identity as “a continual process of becoming”.

The installation Becoming an Image (2012 – current) presents the remnants of a live performance that took place during this year’s Perth Festival. During this event, Cassils physically attacked a 900kg lump of modelling clay whilst being documented by a white male photographer, whose camera flash provided the only source of light. The resulting mushed clay obelisk sits in the gallery as a misshapen monument to the artist’s force and energy, while the surrounding walls are papered with a huge composite photograph of the audience members looking disoriented, shocked, bemused and grim. Overlaid on this wallpaper is a series of glossy shots showing Cassils in action, their muscles taut and eyes wild as they strike the clay. Approaching these walls, the gallery-goer views the viewers and the viewed. It’s a reminder of the power of the gaze; the impact the audience has upon its subject, and of the accountability of being a witness.

One whole wall of the Central Galleries is taken up by the cinematic video Inextinguishable Fire (2007-2015), which offers a close-up view of the artist as they endure a full-body stunt burn in a fire-proof suit. Alluding to the use of fire in protests and as a punishment, the footage has been dramatically slowed – 14 seconds of action extended to 14 minutes – which makes the flickering flames seem otherworldly. At a casual glance the sheer spectacle of this work is enjoyable, but extended time spent with this agonisingly slow piece makes the viewer appreciate the high tensions felt by both Cassils and the audience during the original performance.

Two photographs on the wall of a gallery, showing a woman about to throw a rock, at a protest.
Provoking a sense of unease: Marco Fusinato’s “Lower Power”. Photo: Bo Wong.

Ideas surrounding evidence, spectacle and the depiction of violence are also explored in the works of Australian artist Marco Fusinato found upstairs in the Westend Gallery. In this space, however, the urgent and visceral vitality of Cassil’s works has been replaced with the cool remove of high-end, commercially printed images. Produced for this exhibition, each of the two huge prints in “Lower Power” depicts a protester with their face covered, in the moment before they throw the rock visible in their upraised hand. These works belong to Fusinato’s series “Infinitives” (2009 – ongoing), in which the artist sources images of rioting published by contemporary mass media and enlarges them to monumental scale, printed on massive sheets of aluminium.

By removing these photographs from their original contexts and presenting them without any identifying information about the protesters or their circumstances, Fusinato has ensured that the images become depoliticised – they seem to retain only a generalised sense of “revolution”. The viewer becomes a voyeur, free to appreciate or dismiss the images at their leisure, perhaps choosing to admire only the formal composition or the precise rendering of the prints.

There is a sense of unease provoked by this aestheticization of anonymous rioters, whose intentions and beliefs remain unknown, and who are depicted in dire and possibly deadly circumstances. These works raise questions that are worthy of consideration for citizens of the Information Age, where images depicting violence and suffering are always just a click away.

Cassils “Alchemic” and Marco Fusinato’s “Lower Power” both run at PICA until April 14.

Pictured top: Cassils, “Alchemic”, as part of Perth Festival, at Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, 2019. Photo: Christophe Canato. Image courtesy of Cassils and Ronald Feldman Gallery.

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A star is born

Perth Festival review: The Last Great Hunt, Lé Nør   ·
PICA, February 13 ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

Lé Nør  (The Rain) is the most ambitious work yet by The Last Great Hunt. It’s also the first time that all six members of the West Australian company have combined their talents as devisers, operators and performers in one production.

The result is awe-inspiring.

Here’s the bare bones: Lé Nør is set on the imagined North Atlantic island city-state of Sólset (from now on I’m going to dispense with the accents and umlauts; more on them later) that has endured a terrible seven-year drought that has reduced its inhabitants to water-hoarding, water-blackmailing obsessives. When the rains finally come, they keep coming. Before long the little island faces an even more existential threat.

We follow the lives of the inhabitants of one apartment block, Inez (Gita Bezard), a pregnant rescue helicopter pilot, and her husband Leal (Jeffrey Jay Fowler), Petri (Chris Isaacs) and his inseparable mate Tobe (also Fowler), and two single women drawn to each other, Eliza (Arielle Gray) and Soren (Adriane Daff). Another woman, Suzette (Jo Morris, the only non-Hunter in the cast) pines for her fled boyfriend in her lonely flat, endlessly playing and replaying Phil Collins’s Against All Odds.

All of their shenanigans are overseen with mild menace by the narrator, TLGH’s gamester-in-chief, Tim Watts.

That’s the last you need bother about the plot. It’s the how, not the what, that this thing is about.

As well as the Collins dirge, there’s I’m Not in Love, White Wing Dove, Head over Heels, How Do I Get You Alone, steak knives and more in the exquisitely hideous 1980s soundtrack ­– is there a word for nostalgia for a time you didn’t have to endure yourself?

That’s only part of the referential delight of the work. It’s a deep dive into a world transformed by the lens of a camera, a stage show that becomes, more completely than anything I can remember, the Grand Illusion, the making of cinema.

Effectively the set is a screen that dominates the PICA stage, designed, along with its attendant gadgetry, by the “seventh Hunter”, Anthony Watts. All the show’s action, all its effects, are created for, and live on, that screen. Around it bustle the Hunters and stage manager Clare Testoni, setting scenes, setting up camera shots, striking poses, delivering lines, all to be distilled into images on it.

It’s a phenomenally intense ride – if anything a little too dizzying to actively engage in for 90 minutes – wildly funny and sexy. It’s a technical achievement, with a personality and charisma, like nothing we’ve seen from a West Australian company.

The title, the Hunters say, means “The Rain” in the hilarious gibberish-language they have concocted for the show (there are English surtitles), but we know better.

It really means film noir (although some of the shots, of Gray and Daff in particular, owe as much to flicks like David Hamilton’s soft focus, gauzy 1977 Bilitis as anything grittier) but film theory is probably as unimportant here as narrative. Nothing is important (when nothing is real, there’s nothing to get hung about).

So just sit back and watch Jo Morris in a phone box climbing up the walls and across the ceiling while you see how it’s done; watch two fight superstars (Gray and Daff as goodie and baddie respectively) suddenly come to life on their billboard; watch Bezard’s matchbox helicopter swoop down to rescue our heroes from Solset’s last unsubmerged rooftop (the one with the billboard) like eagles on the slopes of Mt Doom.

With Lé Nør The Last Great Hunt have confirmed their individual and collective stardom and their mastery of their craft. Now it’s time for the real fun to begin.

“Lé Nør” is playing at PICA until February 24, and Mandurah Performing Arts Centre February 28 – March 2.

Pictured top: Visual marvel – Jo Morris and The Last Great Hunt soar. Photo: Daniel Grant.

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Comedy, Fringe World, News, Reviews, Theatre

A juicy gem

Fringe World review: Mish Grigor/Aphids, The Talk ·
PICA, January 24 ·
Review by Xan Ashbury ·

If Mish Grigor ever wanted to start a cult, I bet she could sign up most audience members at the end of each performance of The Talk. She exudes not only charisma but honesty, generosity, courage and humility.

The affection with which the Melbourne-based artist describes her family and family home in Western Sydney is endearing from the outset (they used to eat in the garage around the pool table for whole family gatherings, she confides, which they’d cover with a table cloth – although it was one of those plastic ones, because it’s easier to clean).

We find out, er, *quite a lot* about her parents and three brothers. Except, the family doesn’t actually join her on stage. Instead, transcripts of interviews Grigor recorded about their sex lives are read by members of the audience. (Not before everyone has stood and recited in unison “We are your family”, and warm Moet and packets of Shapes have been passed down the rows. No, really.)

The details revealed are often amusing in their banality. That the interviewees are so coy and awkward discussing the most common of experiences, begs the question: “Why all these taboos about something as fundamental and natural as sex?” But this message is never explicit, of course. Mish is too cool, clever, outrageously funny for that.

Whether she’s playing her mother, or her 12-year-old self (receiving “the talk” from her dad), Grigor is a delight to watch.

The reason for undertaking this unusual project is revealed in the final third of the show. What is already fun takes a dramatic but also heart-warming twist. You could hear a pin drop.

It’s no wonder Grigor sells out shows in Edinburgh, London, Brighton etc. She is a gem.

The Talk is juicy, a little bit salty and thoroughly delicious.

Pictured top is an audience member with Mish Grigor (R). Photo: Christophe Canato.

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The pathos of the natural sublime

Fringe World review: PICA with Tura and Speak Percussion, Polar Force
PICA, January 21⋅
Review by Jonathan W Marshall⋅

Both Australia and New Zealand have been offering fellowships for artists to travel to Antarctica since the 1980s. Results have ranged from the pedestrian (DJ Spooky’s 2008 version of  Sinfonia Antarctica) to the more bracingly exciting and complex (Phil Dadson’s 2005 Polar Projects). Polar Force is the latest such work from Melbourne’s Speak Percussion (Eugene Ughetti and Matthias Shack-Arnott) in collaboration with sound artist Philip Samartzis and RMIT instrument builders Nick Roux and Malte Wagenfield.

The sonic palette developed here is designed to evoke the striking sound of Antarctic winds, rain, storms, flying particulate matter, watery ice and the astonishingly varied and intense vibrations and clatters which these forces produce within the rattling metal sheets, tubes and strung wires of human Antarctic structures. Samartzis has produced some tremendous, all-engulfing field recordings which are played back at three main points within Polar Force, and these are the strongest moments.

The majority of the concert however is not directly derived from these sources, but is rather designed to evoke isolated elements or motifs from these recordings through the use of a novel instrument. The custom built device mounted on a series of elegant glass and metal tables running between two banks of seating is essentially an aerophone, a pump-operated device fitted with valves and apertures through which windy exhalations may be manipulated. The sound is then picked up and transformed by specially fitted microphones. Consequently while some sounds are airy and clattering, others are more audibly electronic, recalling Theremins. Other amplified materials include the rich, harsh cracking of ice as it melts in water, and the sound of balls fed up air tubes and onto a hard surface, like banging doors or particularly hard icy storms.

The attention of Ughetti and Shack-Arnott to this quasi-scientific looking, snaking tubular installation is unfussy but intense. The playing is gestural, yet physically restrained. Adding to this visual aesthetic is the glowing venue itself. The audience is seated in an incandescently white, inflatable, circular-arched quonset hut, metal versions of which abound at Antarctic stations.

Musically, the performance is broken into four main movements separated by three periods in which Samartzis’ recordings are played back. Ughetti and Shack-Arnott tend to focus on particular capabilities of the instrument, and hence on particular elements from the recordings which they can evoke, picking out tones or elements and then gently playing with them (here windiness; then metallic and electronic like; and so on). As a musical composition which evolves over time, I did find the work rather static. Each movement is fairly consistent, and musical or sonic motifs do not seem to develop or shift significantly in focus. Rather there is a tendency towards the initial isolation and reduction of sounds which gradually leads to a crescendo—the most commonplace model in noise art.

Given that the live performance deliberately invites comparison to the recordings, I found it hard not to conclude that “Nature” here is a superior musical author to the humans. Antarctic conditions have crafted indeterminate mixtures and layers of sonic amalgamations which quite literally blow everything else away. The production therefore has something of a pathos-filled quality to it, dramatising the melancholy failure of humans trying to reproduce sounds found in the environment whose full richness eludes them. The natural musical sublime wins.

This is not necessarily a bad thing since the production overall features both types of material—totalising field recordings and more subtle live emulations—while the performances of Ughetti and Shack-Arnott masterfully prepare the audience to listen closely to Samartzis’ overwhelming recordings, as well as raising provocative conceptual conundrums such as where does nature end and the human begin. Field recordings are, after all, themselves a product of enormously complex technology. Overall then, this is a tremendous and thought provoking listening experience.

Polar Force continues until February 24th.

Pictured top: Eugene Ughetti and Matthias Shack-Arnott performing on the custom built instrument.  Photo by Christophe Canato.

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Lower Power
Calendar, Perth Festival, Visual arts

Visual Arts: Lower Power

10 Feb – 14 Apr @ PICA ·
Presented by Marco Fusinato ·

Lower Power, curated by PICA Senior Curator Eugenio Viola, features new works from Melbourne-based Marco Fusinato’s Infinitives series (2009–).

These are a selection of images sourced from the international mass media over the last ten years in which a protagonist is brandishing a rock in the decisive moment of a riot.

As in Baroque paintings the movement is frozen at the height of the action, to emphasise the dynamism of the composition and its theatricality. Each of the sourced images is enlarged to history-painting scale using the latest commercial print technologies.

Fusinato is a post-conceptual artist and an experimental musician, who employs a multidisciplinary approach in his practice that crosses through a variety of media and genres. Apart from exhibiting in gallery and museum contexts he also performs regularly on the experimental music scene, frequently releasing music-related artefacts on international labels.

To coincide with the exhibition Fusinato also presents Spectral Arrows, an improvised durational performance for guitar and mass amplification will take place on Sun 10 Feb.

Presented in association with Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts

Tuesdays–Saturdays 11am–5pm
Sundays  10 & 24 Feb 11am-5pm

Free entry

More info:
/www.perthfestival.com.au/event/lower-power

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Cassils
Calendar, Perth Festival, Visual arts

Visual Arts: Cassils – Alchemic

10 Feb – 14 Apr @ PICA ·
Presented by Cassils ·

Cassils has achieved international recognition for a rigorous engagement with the body as a form of social sculpture. Through a practice spanning more than 15 years Cassils has ‘tackled the complicated politics of transgender visibility and its intertwinement with the politics of form’ (Artforum).

Cassils’ first exhibition in Australia features video, photography and sculpture, as well as a presentation of their iconic performance, Becoming an Image.

Habitually using their own body as medium, Cassils changes it through rigorous training and nutrition schedules to create artworks that offer shared experiences for contemplating histories of violence, representation, struggle and survival. Keenly aware of art history, Cassils’ approach to art form and representation re-frames the gaze and subverts art’s historical canon.

Cassils’ body – defiant, strong and transgender – is the through line of their body of work. With breathtaking skill and finesse, the artist uses their body to question attitudes and society structures, revealing the damaging inadequacies of simplistic binaries and mainstream hegemonies of power.

Tuesday to Sunday 10am–5pm

Curated in association with Eugenio Viola, Senior Curator, PICA
Presented in association with Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts

More info:
www.perthfestival.com.au/event/cassils

Pictured: Cassils, credit: Cassils with Robin Black

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